Mike Palka drills a hole into the ice in the South Cariboo. (Eldy Birnie photo)

Mike Palka drills a hole into the ice in the South Cariboo. (Eldy Birnie photo)

Ice fishing the perfect winter pastime in the Cariboo

Mike Palka and Eldy Birnie love ice fishing

Mike Palka and Eldy Birnie have turned ice fishing into a family sport – and a semi-competition.

The Eagle Creek couple started ice fishing 15 years ago and now go out three times a week every winter. They both love it, but Birnie seems to have the edge. Palka said he once saw her catch nine fish in 20 minutes while it took him hours to catch just one.

“One time she caught a fish it came off the hook, went down the hole and then it jumped back out of the hole onto the ice. I called her the fish whisperer from then on,” Palka said. “She catches more fish than I do, she loves fishing.”

The lakes in the South Cariboo make the area a perfect paradise for their winter sport. Generally, all you need is patience, warm clothing and a pail, Palka said.

“I started off with a pail and a small fishing rod but some people just use a fishing line and a stick,” he said.

Over the years, however, he started bringing more comforts of home, loading up the snowmobile with a tent, space heater, BBQ, and a fish bonker and ice scooper to keep the hole from freezing over.

Depending on what they are hoping to catch, Palka and Birnie will set up in the middle of the lake – for Kokanee – or the edges, Eastern Brook Trout.

His fish of choice include Kokanee, Eastern Brook Trout, Kamloops Rainbow Trout and Burbot. Each requires a different fishing line to catch. For Kokanee, the best-tasting fish, Palka said his line must go down at least 30 to 40 feet while for trout, just 12 feet will do

For bait, Palka uses shrimp or maggots for most trout and mealworms for Kokanee. He and Birnie farm their own mealworms for this purpose. He also uses flashers and lures to attract fish. Sometimes he’ll coat his bait with bloody tuna oil.

There are fish in almost every lake in the South Cariboo and Palka said the fishing has been especially good so far this year, thanks in part to the warm weather.

He and Birnie have a few favourite spots such as Bobbs Lake, which is only 20 minutes from home and has both Kokanee and native fish species, including rainbow trout.

He and Birnie were fishing on Bobbs Lake Valentine’s Day a few years ago. He brought along a portable BBQ and cooked up their catch and some homemade chips.

As they drank and ate their meal with a bottle of wine on the ice, he said they were the talk of the lake that day.

Every lake is generally well stocked. Burbot can be found at Canim and Ruth lakes, although Palka tends to avoid Ruth because of its high volume of sucker fish.

Horse Lake, meanwhile, has the best-tasting Kokanee and it’s usually between one and two pounds, a perfect size for eating.

Snag Lake is a shallow lake, only about six to 10 feet deep, good for catching Eastern Brook Trout. Palka remembers going on that lake on a clear cold day. He could see the fish swimming under his feet, which was a “really weird feeling.”

“When you’re fishing for Eastern Brook trout you can look down the hole and see them coming up for your bait, that’s the exciting part.”

He recommends people heading out to ice fishing this season pick up a cheap fish finder from a local game store. This will help them figure out the correct depth to catch fish, although Palka said between 20 to 25 feet always works for him.

“My most important advice would be to check the thickness of the ice before you go out. You need a minimum of three inches but at four inches it’s safe to go pretty much anywhere on the lake.”



patrick.davies@100milefreepress.net

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Sitting on top of an ice fishing pail, Mike Palka waits for a bite while ice fishing. (Eldy Birnie photo)

Sitting on top of an ice fishing pail, Mike Palka waits for a bite while ice fishing. (Eldy Birnie photo)

A haul of fish caught ice fishing. (Eldy Birnie photo)

A haul of fish caught ice fishing. (Eldy Birnie photo)

Mike Palka enjoys bringing a tent with him when he ice fishes to stay warm. (Eldy Birnie photo)

Mike Palka enjoys bringing a tent with him when he ice fishes to stay warm. (Eldy Birnie photo)

Mike Palka cooks some freshly caught fish on his portable BBQ right on the lake. (Eldy Birnie photo)

Mike Palka cooks some freshly caught fish on his portable BBQ right on the lake. (Eldy Birnie photo)